Geoff Banks from Honiton in Devon, UK, and Celesta Byrne from Texas are transatlantic pen pals. They were first matched in 1938 as a part of an educational project connecting young people – British and American. Now, 84 years later, they are still communicating with each other.
Talk about a sweet story. They were sixteen when Geoff was given Celesta’s address in 1938. “They matched us up with Americans for a pen pal relationship, and somehow I ended up with this letter from an American girl, and we just kept corresponding ever since,” the Devon, England, resident recounted to South West News Service.
A year after they started corresponding, Germany invaded Poland and World War II broke out. But Banks and Byrne continued to communicate — even as Banks served as a mechanic on the British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious in the Pacific.
“There were a couple of years where we struggled to keep in touch because of the war, but some of my mail I had sent to her during the war was returned to her after it ended and she wrote me back,” he recalled.
They are both clear that it’s a longtime transatlantic friendship, there’s been nothing more over the years. Celesta compares the friendship to being like next door neighbors.
Celesta Byrne swiftly put such questions to rest: “No, we’re just friends, like people who live next door.
“You ask how they’re doing, you say a few words and then you both go to work.
“There wasn’t ‘glibbily globbally’ stuff, it was just normal neighbor people.”
They were able to meet in person in 2002 when Banks was visiting New York.
Their handwritten letters eventually became emails. Now they even use Zoom for video chats. Their children help them with the technology. Banks said of Byrne that it has been ‘a source of great satisfaction to write to her for over all these years’. ‘She’s a very interesting person. We exchange stories and she’s very good to talk to,’ he added.
Both have married and Banks’ wife of 63 years passed away in 2011. Both raised children and have grandchildren. Banks is a great-grandfather.
Theirs is just a sweet story. Think of the history they have spoken about over the years. They began their correspondence just before World War II.
In Ms Byrne’s native Texas, the state was further crippled by the devastating effects of the Dust Bowl – a period of severe dust storms and drought that made it almost impossible to farm. Many Texans were killed as a result of the weather, along with livestock and ruined crops.
Racial segregation was also legal in the US, with the Civil Rights Act still some three decades away.
In 1938, Britain was also pursuing a foreign policy of appeasement from war. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had signed the Munich Agreement in an effort to stave off any potential war and negotiate with Adolf Hitler.
Life was also vastly different for young Britons in the 1930s. Children would likely leave school at around the age of 14 and be sent out to work. Many of them would soon be evacuated to the countryside away from the bombing.
May they have many more conversations over video calls in the coming years.